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Victims of power games

Victims of power games
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Sarabjit Singh is dead and has become a martyr. Political leaders thronged his home. Offers in cash and kind poured in. Every political leader wanted...

Sarabjit Singh is dead and has become a martyr. Political leaders thronged his home. Offers in cash and kind poured in. Every political leader wanted to be photographed with the family members. The man accused of being an Indian spy had been behind bars in Pakistan for years and several attempts from the government and private bodies, during brief periods of detente between the two nations, to secure his release failed.

Last week, Sarabjit was reportedly attacked by fellow prisoners in a Lahore jail and was seriously injured. Two days later, Pak authorities announced he had died of a massive cardiac arrest. They conducted a post-mortem and sent back his body to his home town in Punjab.

For the past many years, both the government and family members had denied that Sarabjit Singh was a spy. Very few governments, even democratic ones, acknowledge that their low-level 'spies' have been captured while on duty outside national borders. One of the fundamental harsh truths of spy life is that if one is caught, one is on his/her own and would not receive any help from Motherland. The rules are, however, different for top-level spies or directors of intelligence. Their capture makes big news; so does their trial, punishment or ultimate repatriation.

The Indo-Pak border is ill-marked at several points and it is impossible to keep watch at less populated areas. People living in border areas often feel nothing wrong if they cross over the border to graze their cattle, cut down trees or indulge in some minor smuggling. Normally, security guards ignore these incursions. Infiltration happens from both sides of the borders and is quite different from armed infiltrators sent to stir up trouble across the border. These men are trained by armed units and intelligence agencies, quite familiar with dirty espionage work which includes murder.

To this day, no one knows why exactly Sarabjit Singh crossed the border and entered Pakistan. Villages across Indian Punjab border freely admit and are proud of the fact that their sons are on military duty all along the border. This is essential work, patriotic work and the jawans are on the payrolls of the Indian army. A But 'jasoosi' (spying) work is seldom acknowledged. People all over Punjab and other border areas do not admit that their menfolk were recruited for some 'mysterious' work across the border. Those who were asked just to collect information on troop movements or any unusual activities near the border were the casual spies.

But those sent with specific instructions to destroy enemy targets are in the category of 'terrorists'. To this day, we do not know to which category Sarabjit Singh belonged. A Every nation has its own intelligence network. Spies functioned even in ancient India operating in the Gupta, Maurya, Chola, Pandya and Pallava empires. Their duty was to spy on the military preparedness of the neighbouring nations and discover hostile intentions. A Spy networks became more active on the eve of any planned invasion and very often dates of invasion and other details were worked out after the spies sent back their field reports.

During World War II, intelligence agencies of the Allied Powers co-ordinated their activities before setting the date for 'Operation Overlord' when the mighty invading force under General Eisenhower set sail from Dover to destroy the Nazi warlords holding most of Europe. A Ironically, the spy reports had to focus more on weather conditions because the task of crossing the English Channel in foul weather was highly dangerous.

Recruitment of spies has become much more sophisticated now. Even the Big Powers make no effort to hide the existence of their intelligence networks. During the Cold War period, the Big Powers sent representatives to leading colleges and universities to recruit students who ideologically supported enemy countries like the Soviet Union.

Cambridge and Oxford in the 1930s were fertile grounds of Marxism and led to the emergence of super spies like Burgess, Mclean and Blake. After the war, spying became so hush-hush that for several years the British government even denied the existence of intelligence agencies like MI5 and MI6. Author Ian Fleming took advantage of this secrecy to create the totally fictitious super-spy James Bond whose glamorous exploits were far removed from the really dirty world of spies. But today, spying has become respectable. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the British MI5 and MI6 openly advertise for candidates for 'intelligence' work as though it is just another kind of routine government work.

Such openness has not reached India. Our 'spying' is still associated with routine 'police work'. Such an approach makes no efforts to protect field agents like Sarabjit Singh if we presume he was trained as a spy. Our field agents unfortunately have no protection, very little training, no field supervisors and are as shabbily treated as the 'stool pigeons' employed by the local police havaldars. Some of them were captured by Pakistan and other hostile neighbours and they spent long years behind bars.

These 'spies' are not trained to collect really sensitive information vital to our national security. They are not provided with any codes or sophisticated equipment. What is expected of them is to cross the border, pretend to be one of the locals, keep their eyes and ears open and pick up any stray information related to security, movement of troops and arms.

If caught, they spend some years in jail and are then repatriated. Back in India, they cannot claim any compensation for the troubles they endured. Very few of them have money to pay for legal settlement claims; in most cases the government even would not acknowledge they were recruited by it.

Sarabjit Singh made news because of the long tenure he spent inside Pak jails. The Pak authorities maintained he was an Indian spy sent to derail military installations. How far this was true, we do not know. The system of spying and supervision of field workers whose main job is collecting of information should be regularised.

Persons falsely accused of being spies should be provided with legal help. Can't India and Pakistan behave like civilized neighbours without harassment of innocent citizens jailed for long terms and who even got killed? The same is the case with Sri Lanka. Why hold hundreds of innocent fishermen whose only 'crime' was straying into waters of the neighbour? Quick preliminary investigations could prove such straying was accidental and the fishermen could be released with a suitable warning. India, being a major world power, should take the lead in these cases.

Very few governments, even democratic ones, A acknowledge that their low-level 'spies' have been captured while on duty outside national borders. One of the fundamental harsh truths of spy life is that if one is caught, one is on his/her own and would not receive any help from Motherland. The rules are, however, different for A top-level spies or directors of intelligence

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